Things Not To Say When Accused of Assault

the weinstein effect communication blog what not to say when you've been accused of assault

The likes of Harvey Weinstein, Terry Richardson, Leon Wieseltier, James Toback, Chris Savino, local golden boy, John Besh, and countless others have been accused of assault and harassment against primarily female co-workers and employees. It’s gone viral as “The Weinstein Effect.”

With full understanding that these allegations have legal implications, these claims have undoubtedly unleashed a flurry of high-profile lawyers advising these men on what to say and how to say it. An actual admission of guilt is ill-advised from a legal standpoint, but so is “no comment.” Therefore, the statements issued by spokespeople, lawyers, and the accused themselves have, in large part, been ingenuine.

The statements seem inauthentic not only coming from a professional crisis communications firm, but also as a firm of people with mothers, daughters, sisters, and friends. As these men have been accused of violating multiple people on multiple occasions – they ought to get the apology right at least.  

And so, @harvey and company, from our PR advisors, here is a vocabulary list of things not to say in the apology when accused of sexual assault.

1. When people say, “I thought it was consensual.” Thought, belief, etc. is subjective. Actions like fondling, groping, or sexual comments are not. So, regardless of what was thought, something happened and this statement just won’t cut it. It frames the report as a “he said, she said” debacle and makes everyone’s recollection of the event seem illegitimate.

“...but all of the subjects of his work participated consensually.” - Spokesperson for Photographer Terry Richardson, accused of assaulting 15 individuals

2. When people say, “But it was only, for like, two seconds.” Assault has no time frame. End of story. This demonstrates neither innocence nor compassion so it’s best to leave statements like this out completely.

“ "was for five minutes and (he had) no recollection."  – Writer and Director James Toback, accused of assaulting 200+ individuals

3. When people say, “It was never my intention to…” Regardless of your intent, it is essential to address the unnecessary humiliation, degradation, and scarring experiences your victims have gone through. So, save this phrase for next time you’re late for a dinner reservation, not for ruining someone’s professional experience.

“Although it was never my intention, I now understand..." – Creator of a Nickelodeon Animated Series Chris Savino, accused of assaulting 12 individuals

4. When people compliment their victims with brilliant, smart, beautiful, or talented as part of their response to an accusation. It is an oxymoron (emphasis on ‘moron’). It’s inconsistent with the demeaning act of assault or harassment and these compliments are worthless to the victim. It only adds insult to injury by objectifying the victims again.

“Mr. Weinstein has a different recollection of the events, but believes Lupita is a brilliant actress and a major force for the industry.” – representative for Harvey Weinstein, accused of assaulting 40+ individuals

5. When people say, “But I didn’t assault every single person I worked with…” This is another example of a statement that only increases doubt. No reporter, lawyer, or judge is interested in the people who were not assaulted. This tactic also puts people outside the situation under the microscope and can ruin connections and personal relationships.

“Besh repeatedly cited a number of management level women at BRG as evidence contradicting the culture described by the women alleging sexual harassment." – Chef, Restaurateur, Food Personality John Besh, accused of assaulting 25 individuals

These five phrases have been littered throughout Hollywood’s apologies and we believe they’re better left out. They do not prove innocence, they do not remedy the situation, they only belittle the victim and their account of what happened.

Because we are not a firm to simply critique other’s actions and offer no solution, we would like to commend Leon Wieseltier, former editor of The New Republic, certainly not for his actions, but for his apology.

“For my offenses against some of my colleagues in the past I offer a shaken apology and ask for their forgiveness. ... The women with whom I worked are smart and good people. I am ashamed to know that I made any of them feel demeaned and disrespected. I assure them I will not waste this reckoning.” - Leon Wieseltier, accused of prolific workplace harassment

From a communication standpoint it does the following things:

  • Names the victims as “colleagues” and “people” therefore putting himself on an equal level with his victims.
  • Apologizes with no clauses or backhanded disclaimers.
  • Promises and commits to the victims and the world that this will change him.
  • This statement says nothing about false accusations, “what actually happened,” etc. It is an apology and addresses the issue at hand with compassion and professionalism. The rest is left to the judicial system, where it can be properly dealt with.

We haven’t even touched on the massive numbers of half-hearted apologies and statements that have been issued by people of power in Hollywood. Man, woman, whatever – when accused of crimes with such personal and long-lasting impact, honesty and transparency are, now more than ever, most important. So, to the others: Roman Polanski, Bill Cosby, Bill O’Reilly, Casey Afflek, Mike Tyson, and the remaining list of those who have been outed and those who remain undiscovered, please, leave the buzz words at home and make your apology sincere and from the heart. Your victims deserve it.

For further information regarding BMF's crisis response, or to discuss this topic further, let us know on social media or contact one of our BMF team members.